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Can we get real, please?

November 28, 2003

Does it strike you as more than a touch ludicrous to be debating whether Victoria was right to bat on and on in the three-day warm-up game against the touring Indian side?

Merciless: Double centurion Brad HodgeApparently, we expected some kind of 'gentleman's accommodation' from the hosts, who would play fetch and carry while our team had an extended net in the middle.

To have expected that is to ignore what modern cricket is all about. These days teams play to win -- and the campaign begins well before the first ball of the first Test is bowled.

Think back to 1998, when Mark Taylor brought his Aussies over to India for a three-Test series. The last warm-up game before the first Test in Chennai was against Mumbai.

National captain Sachin Tendulkar led the then Ranji champions -- and on the evening before the game, called his team together and told them, 'Tomorrow, go after Warne. It doesn't matter even if you lose your wickets -- the goal is to demolish Warne.'

It was a carefully thought out plan. Tendulkar knew Warne was the key to an under-strength Aussie bowling attack; destroy his confidence ahead of the Test series, and you gain the psychological edge.

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What followed was a combined Mumbai assault of calculated ferocity; it was led by Sachin himself, but every member of the team played his part as the home batsmen smashed Warne into submission.

You didn't see Mumbai giving the Aussies an extended net practice out in the middle; you didn't see the host team being polite to the visitors. Instead, Mumbai played to win -- and in winning, to dent the visitors' confidence ahead of the Test series.

It worked. Mumbai won the game -- and Warne never really recovered from that battering; in that series, he had 10 wickets for 540 runs, at an average of 54 and a strike rate of one wicket every 100 balls, that put him last in the list of regular bowlers.

How about some sauce now for the gander? Victoria went into the just-ended game as part of Team Australia; its goal was to help ensure that the tourists didn't get off to a flying start ahead of the first Test -- and it accomplished just that, by rattling the batsmen and demolishing a near Test-strength bowling lineup.

Accept it. That is how cricket is played these days; there are no favours being handed out.

Victorian coach David Hookes had a point when he said the Indian approach to this game was mystifying -- staggeringly so.

Take the batting first. What would a touring side want to do in the first of its warm-up games? The obvious answer seems to be, spend time in the middle, get your sea legs, as it were, soak in the conditions, get used to the different light...

Barring Sadagopan Ramesh, Sachin Tendulkar and Parthiv Patel, none of the Indians seem to have applied themselves to any of those requirements. For Sehwag it was easy come easy go; for Dravid it seemed a case of let's see how long I can go without scoring a run; for Aakash Chopra it was a first hint that there is a difference between the sort of tracks and attacks he has been used to at home, and the sort of conditions he can expect in Australia; for Ganguly, it was the first taste of what will be a regular diet of short-pitched bowling...

For purposes of this argument, the second innings doesn't count, really, for obvious reasons.

Now take the bowling. Much is being made of how the Victorians batted on and on. Is it time to flip that on its head and ask why the bowlers and fielders did nothing about it? After all, this was a near full-strength bowling lineup. If it was reduced to impotence by a state side, what can it expect from the Australian Test XI?

The most shocking aspect of the game was the petulance of the bowlers and fielders. Once it was clear there were no easy wickets to be had, it was as if the bowlers and fielders merely went through the motions; almost as if they were telling themselves, okay, we'll just have to keep bowling and chasing for a bit more, then they will declare, and we can go back to the pavilion and cool our heels some more.

The alternate mindset -- hell, these guys are putting up a bit of a fight here, let's up our game a few notches and show them what we are made of -- was missing; so much so that at the end of the second day, skipper Sourav Ganguly was reduced to fury by the team's apathetic performance.

I don't know if he gave his team an earful; given the kind of guy he is, I would be surprised if he -- and John Wright -- did not. And their audience deserved every word of the abuse I hope they got.

Here was a great opportunity to refine your bowling, experiment with lines and lengths, against a batting lineup that was capable of providing you a stiff test; the Indian bowlers, however, approached it with all the enthusiasm the school dunce displays on exam day.

There is another aspect -- the administrative -- to this first game that merits discussion, but leave that lie for another day. For now, the team has one more opportunity to get on the boil ahead of the December 4 Test at the Gabba; it will be interesting to see how they approach the final warm-up game beginning Saturday.

For starters, what team will they pick? Ideally, the first consideration should be to ensure that those members of the squad that haven't had a game are inducted into the eleven.

Take the bowlers, first. You've seen enough of Nehra to know how well he has recovered from his recent injuries; you would now want to rest him and bring in Ajit Agarkar. You would also want to play Irfan Pathan, Jr. If you have taken him to Australia, it is presumably because you think the lad has promise. It might be a plan to give him a go and see how he shapes, so that the team management, when picking the playing elevens for the Tests ahead, has some basis on which to evaluate his utility.

Anil Kumble needs to get a go, if only to see how well he can do in these conditions; Deep Dasgupta likewise, so the management can get a fair reading of whether he has in fact improved as a wicket-keeper, and whether he is in fact capable of being the batting buffer between number 6 and the tail.

Sehwag needs to play -- and before he goes out, someone needs to tell him that nothing less than two sessions out in the middle is acceptable; that he has not grown so great that he can take warm up games lightly, slam a couple of fours, and get back into the hut to chill.

My playing eleven for Saturday would be Sehwag, Chopra, Ramesh, Laxman, Dravid, Ganguly, Dasgupta, Pathan (who, incidentally, can bat a bit), Agarkar, Kumble, Zaheer; before the game begins, each would need to be given specific briefs, by the captain and coach on what is expected of them and, as in the case of the don't-give-a-damn Sehwag and the petulant Zaheer, what is not.

Postscript: Did someone say India is the hub of the IT revolution? You wouldn't think so, judging solely by how the BCCI operates.

The team sends out a hurry call for a bowling coach, and the captain suggests who he wants.

Actually, to digress, Ganguly wants Wasim Akram -- a great choice, given not only Akram's obvious excellence, but also given that three of India's seamers are left-armers.

He is told, by various members of the board, that the choice is not 'politically correct'.

Why ever not?

This is the same board that had been clamouring to play in Pakistan, even in the immediate aftermath of Kargil. This is the board that has organised both junior- and senior-level engagements against Pakistan within 24 hours of getting the go-ahead from the government.

'Politically', India and Pakistan are supposedly making moves for peace; a ceasefire -- the first in 14 years -- has come into effect; various other confidence-building measures are being discussed and implemented.

But it is not 'politically correct' for Pakistan's greatest ever fast bowler to give the Indians the help they need, despite the captain's own stated wish?

What, exactly, is 'politically incorrect' about Akram helping the Indian bowlers at this juncture? Or is 'politically incorrect' merely a convenient phrase with which to avoid doing something you don't want to do?

Never mind that, even. Ganguly, stymied in his first choice, opts for former left-arm Aussie fast bowler Bruce Reid. In the interests of urgency (the board, mind you, has been dilly-dallying on the question of bowling coaches for months now), he bypasses channels and goes straight to BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya, who reportedly assures him that it will be considered.

And a day later, board secretary S K Nair says, 'We have not received any formal proposal; as and when we do, we will consider it.'

Duh! This, in an age when you can send an email from one corner of the world to the other in under a minute, flat?!

So what does the BCCI want? For the captain to make out an application in triplicate and send it to the BCCI headquarters by sea mail; for the board to then go through the application, call a meeting of its executive committee, discuss, debate, weigh the pros and cons -- and then conclude that more than a month has gone by already, the tour is almost over, so no point providing a bowling coach anyway?

The decision to suspend Abhijeet Kale was taken -- unilaterally -- within minutes of the formal complaint being received. In the case of something that would be of some value to the team, we are, however, waiting for a 'formal request' to 'consider'. Sheesh!

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